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Ask A Worthologist Question: Victorian Mustache Cup

by Mike Wilcox (08/29/12).

A Victorian mustache cup. WorthPoint members Dora E. wants to know if her $40 buy was a good one.

Dora E. has a passion for bargains and even if they look a little rough around the edges, if it appears to be a good deal, she’s going to buy it. One piece in particular was something she’d read about, but had never run across one until now and just had to have it. Her biggest concern, after paying a bit more than she was comfortable doing, was that it might be a reproduction. She contacted us via WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to get an answer to this concern. Her inquiry was forwarded to me. Here’s her question.

“I’ve always had an eye for the unusual and hunt the Goodwill-type stores, yard sales and auctions when I can. I try not to spend too much on any item I’m not familiar with and try and stick to things that I can get my money back if I had to sell it right away. When I run out of room in my apartment or get bored with an item, I generally sell it online and use the money to buy another more interesting piece. I like to pick up small items like figurines because they don’t take up much room and they are easy to sell online. This mustache cup is a new thing for me. I’d heard about Queen Victoria Commemorative china, but I’ve never run into any. This one is in such good shape I was worried it might be a reproduction, but it was such an unusual find for me, I paid $40 for it. I don’t plan on selling it until I know for sure what I have is not a reproduction. Did I pay too much for it if it’s not?”

Here’s my response:

Well, having just grown in a goatee and mustache, I might just take this one off your hands if you want to sell it at some point. Mustache cups do have an interesting story behind them, as they were a necessary creation of fashion history.

A gentleman of the time, sporting a period mustache.

Mustaches of all sorts flourished throughout the Victorian era, becoming a form of masculine pride, and men went to great lengths to cultivate a perfect example. The problem being that in order to maintain and shape them required the use of a special wax. This created a problem for men with these hairy affectations, because when drinking steaming hot cups of tea or coffee, the heat melted the wax and sent it right into the cup and leaving the mustache a soggy mess, and the drink even worse.

The solution, the mustache cup, was invented about 1860. It is credited to the British potter named Harvey Adams (born 1835), who found a way around this problem by adding a the ledge allowed the passage of liquids, but kept the mustache dry and cool. The popularity of these cups lasted until the beginning of the First World War, when “walrus” and “handlebar” mustaches finally went out of fashion.

You can rest assured you made a very good buy on this one. Based on the images, it is a mustache cup commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee of 1897. This one was made by the William Lowe Pottery located in Staffordshire, England, then the largest production center of earthenware and ironstone pottery in the world. The Lowe pottery was located in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, and operated from 1874 until 1931, its main product being earthenware and bone china. Lowe produced a number of other commemoratives, such as sandwich plates, mugs, loving cups, trio sets and regular cups and saucers for both the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887 and her 1897 Diamond Jubilee, which do have an eager group of dedicated collectors.

While values for regular William Lowe teacups are generally fairly modest—an ordinary cup and saucer by them often go for less than $25 online—this one is a triple treat. It has three things going for it that add value over their regular production pieces:

  • It is a limited production commemorative piece of considerable age;
  • It was made only for one specific year;
  • It is in an unusual form, a mustache cup is harder to find.

The sum of all those three together adds a considerable bonus over just being Victorian, or even a Victorian mustache cup. In the current market, we often see the Lowes 1897 commemorative mustache cups retailing for more than $150, a very nice markup from your $40 investment.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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